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Now equipped with a full license to the latest version of Audirvana I was in business to get seriously comparative. I put that reviewer hat back on and forget about this entire silliness of listening to music for pure selfish pleasure. Since I also happened to have purchased BitPerfect and Decibel over the past few years, I decided to invite those programs to the party as well.

Let's start with BitPerfect. As its name implies, it ensures bit-perfect iTunes playback, bypassing a number of internal OSX processes especially the unwanted up/down-sampling that can plague iTunes. Of the four programs it is the only one to not offer memory playback (i.e. preload tracks to memory to avoid disk activity during playback). BitPerfect can be downloaded from the Apple app store for $9.99 (of note is the innovative marketing trick of $9.99 pricing to avoid the clearly over-the-top $10 price tag). It requires nothing more than double-clicking on the app to activate it. Its presence is betrayed only by a small icon on top of your screen. BitPerfect does not require any complicated setup (although some options exist, the defaults will give the best results). Once on, use iTunes as if BP was not even active. The app does its work quietly in the background.

Obviously the low price of BP is attractive for somebody not quite convinced yet of the value of advanced playback software. (Although BP was initially available for $5 and saw a significant price increase recently, it is still the cheapest option for MAC). Unfortunately BP's effects will be more noticed by what it does not do rather than by what it does. While BP does provide automatic sample rate switching depending on the format of the music file being played and slightly improves resolution with sharper transients likely due to improved jitter performance, it does nothing to reduce digital glare which is iTunes’ primary issue as far as I am concerned. It stands out by having a fairly recessed and lacklustre midrange. BP does not allow DSD or FLAC playback either but I suspect the target audience for this cheap plug-in has little value for those features to start with. All in all BP does something commensurate with its price but I can't really recommend it for serious audiophile playback. The other options are not that much more expensive but deliver a far better musical experience and more features.

Moving on to Decibel, we get to the descendent of Ayre Wave which used to be a free program but will now set you back $32.99, not a huge investment by any audio standard (note again the brilliant .99 pricing that fools all of us into thinking this app is far cheaper than it is). Although quite easy to use, Decibel adds memory playback and FLAC support but not DSD and provides an option for completely avoiding iTunes whilst picking files and folders in Finder to play directly.

Like with BitPerfect the convenience of automatic sample rate switching is great and I like the ability to operate with or without iTunes or simply drag a file from iTunes into the Decibel window to create a playlist. Unfortunately I don't find sound quality much better than BitPerfect. There's still prominent digital glare which I hate so much although to Decibel's credit midrange presence is quite improved. There is no doubt in my mind that there is an improvement over iTunes with Decibel but I can't really justify the price gap over BitPerfect nor do I find its sound quality to quite qualify it as high-end audio.